TrueHoop: Basketball History

Wednesday Mini-Bullets

October, 14, 2009

John Wooden is 99

October, 14, 2009

Happy Birthday, coach.

His family says they will celebrate quietly.

The tallest of his red-headed former pupils, Bill Walton, has written Wooden a heartfelt and funny letter full of memories and ... play-by-play of some of Walton's favorite new albums. He even implies that Bob Dylan's newest includes two songs Dylan wrote "specifically for" John Wooden. I read the lyrics of those songs -- and I'm sure Walton couldn't mean that literally.

By total coincidence, yesterday I bought a classic Wooden book: "Wooden: A Lifetime of Observations and Reflections On and Off the Court."

There are several great tales in there, but one really stuck with me.

Wooden, of course, is almost synonymous with UCLA. But here's the amazing thing. At the time he was offered the UCLA job, he was also in the running to become head coach in Minnesota, which was closer to home for him. There were some complications with the Minnesota position, though, which he wanted to get straightened out first. They said they'd call by 6 p.m. with the details of his final offer. UCLA was due to call at 7.

Minnesota didn't call, so when UCLA called, Wooden said yes to his second choice.

As he hung up the phone, it rang, and it was Minnesota. A blizzard had knocked out all the phone lines, so they had been unable to get through, but now they were offering everything he had asked for.

Had I been able to terminate my agreement with UCLA in an honorable fashion, I would have done so immediately. But I had given my word just a few minutes before.

If fate had not intervened, I would never had gone to UCLA. But my dad's little set of threes served me well: "Don't whine. Don't complain. Don't make excuses."...

I believe that things are directed in some sort of way. I'm not exactly sure how. I also believe that things turn out the best for those who make the best of the way things turn out.

Talk about making the best of it: John Wooden went on to lead UCLA to what may have been the greatest coaching run in college sports history. 

Tuesday Bullets

October, 13, 2009
  • Bret LaGree of Hoopinion on Larry Brown's ejection via replacement referee: "Larry got his 2nd T from Kevin Scott, who never got within 35 feet of Brown before, during, or after the call. Brown tried to engage any of the refs on the occasion of his ejection but none would speak with or possibly even look at him. Rather than deal with the issue directly, Scott walked to the opposite end of the court and appeared to attempt to enlist a befuddled police officer in asking/making Brown leave the court."
  • The Knicks and Nets have both claimed to have the most cap space of any team in 2010. Who's right?
  • The Bulls like each other.
  • Dean Oliver, the Denver Nuggets' statistical consultant, and the case for drafting Ty Lawson. Also, I think Oliver is in a very small club of team stats experts: He gets to inform the front office on personnel decisions, and the coaching staff on game strategy. Also, Lawson was part of a Nugget lineup that played very well in Beijing.
  • Hope in Philadelphia, where a 3-0 preseason has people feeling good. Elton Brand tells Philadunkia: "All the major injuries are totally behind me and I feel great. Plus Thaddeus Young and Andre Iguodala have gotten better over the summer as well as I so we're going to have a good formidable team."
  • The Blazers -- one of those teams that has had a messed up cable deal that makes it hard for some fans to watch games -- say that by January they hope to have video of every game streaming live on their website, which would be an NBA first.
  • Jermaine Taylor and Chase Budinger didn't get a lot of attention on draft day, but they're looking pretty good in preseason.
  • Rasual Butler makes the Clippers better.
  • Gregg Popovich has inspired winemakers, and now vegetable growers.
  • Kevin Durant's one-game plus/minus in last night's OT victory over the Suns: plus-24. That's what I'm talking about!
  • An old video clip of Delonte West and Paul Pierce, pre-Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett trades, talking about how good the Celtics are going to be.
  • In my review of SonicsGate yesterday, I listed four goals of the movie. Producer Adam Brown adds two more: To preserve the history of the Seattle SuperSonics. Since that history is now officially owned by Clay Bennett, we needed to document some of the good times as well as the team's demise. OKC didn't celebrate in June 1979, and they didn't cry in May 1994. We did, and we deserve this document to remind us of that. Also, to get the issue back in people's mouths here in Washington with the primary goal of getting an NBA team back. Ultimately we have to convince our politicians that a 50% privately funded arena deal will create jobs and boost the economy while allowing us to regain this cultural asset."
  • Malcolm Gladwell on the ethics of a gladiator mentality.

It wasn't clear, when Allen Iverson made his rant about practice, just how memorable that would prove to be.

Here's Manny Ramirez from the weekend, and for the second time, and just for fun, here's the funky remix.

Thursday Bullets

October, 8, 2009
  • A prediction this year's champion will come from the East, where David Berri's numbers say Orlando, Boston and Cleveland are far ahead of the rest of the conference.
  • They asked all the Blazers which NBA players they respect the most. Kobe Bryant and Tim Duncan tie for first with three votes each
  • Chris Douglas-Roberts has the messiest locker of all Nets, and he doesn't like getting taped up for games, because the tape hurts the skin on the bottom of his feet. Also, word that Douglas-Roberts and Courtney Lee are locked into a "nasty" battle for playing time.
  • The Madrid team's whole starting front line is injured for their exhibition against the Jazz this afternoon. Madrid's new coach, Ettore Messina, blogs about the slow work of integrating many new players.  On, he also writes about a player who won't be playing for Madrid: "As we agreed terms with [Pablo] Prigioni, a possibility to talk to Ricky Rubio came up. So, good offers were made both to Joventut Badalona and the player himself. After a week of thinking, Ricky decided that he wanted to spend the following two years (before leaving for the NBA) in Barcelona, close to his family and friends. At that point there was no way persuading him to come to Madrid. Though, obviously, we still wish him good luck." Worth noting that Messina has the impression Rubio will come to the NBA in two years -- even though it would make financial sense to wait for three.
  • Antawn Jamison doing yoga.
  • Sergio Rodriguez, for a moment, forgot which team he was on.
  • I have a pet theory that long players who can hit open jumpers, pass and play D all over the court are super valuable to any team. Suns rookie Earl Clark could be one of those guys
  • Weird thing: Dennis Rodman is one of the best players in NBA history, thanks to the fact that nobody has really ever rebounded like he did. That's what makes him great. Yet it's clearly not what people most loved about him. Here's how I know that: I just spent 20 minutes trying to find a really good highlight reel of his rebounding prowess. I thought it would be something we could all learn from, especially about recognizing and pursuing rebounds out of your area. And there are a zillion highlight reels of the guy. But as far as I can tell just about all of them are mostly dunks, fights, blocks, 3-pointers and clowning. It feels a little like we love those elements of basketball so much that even when we're celebrating a great rebounder, we won't actually do so with, you know, rebounds.
  • It's getting to be just about time for Julian Wright to show what he can do. How did the young Hornet fare in a preseason game against the Hawks? Bret LaGree of Hoopinion was there: "Julian Wright has a great (I fear it may be an innate) ability to overcomplicate a situation, to try to squeeze three moves into a play where only one is necessary but that wasn't in evidence tonight. At the start of the game, he and Morris Peterson would spot up outside the arc, leaving the paint (extended) to Paul and West, maybe Sean Marks if he set a ball-screen for Paul. Wright would cut to the basket if his man helped defensively. The three he missed was in rhythm and as good a look from that range as he's likely to have. The 16' jumper he made on the baseline in third quarter looked very instinctual. He was far superior to the Hawks 2nd/3rd string in the fourth quarter."
  • The assertion that if roles were reversed -- Will Bynum has been a first-round pick, and Rodney Stuckey had been undrafted -- Bynum would be the Pistons' starter.
  • "More Than a Game" -- the LeBron James documentary -- is said to rank up there in the sports documentary world with the Muhammad Ali story "When We Were Kings." High praise, indeed.
  • "We Believe" proved to be a bad tagline for the Clippers.
  • Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel: "The officiating by the replacements was so atrocious that fill-in official Robbie Robinson could become the first referee to ever be fired twice by the NBA."
  • Clark Matthews, writing for Daily Thunder, on the cheap seats in Oklahoma City: "Do we have to keep calling the third tier 'Loud City?' I know the Hornet marketing team, which did an excellent job selling the sport to this market, came up with the idea, and a lot of people have embraced this, but I've sat up there a lot. It isn't loud and it's not a city."
  • Pacer rookie A.J. Price wore the wrong gear to practice and couldn't be in the team photo. Travis Diener, writing on the Indianapolis Star's website: "Those darn rookies. You've got to hold their hands through everything."

Total rebound percentage is a powerful number to know.

If a certain player is on the floor, what percentage of the missed shots does he grab? Big deal. Important to winning games.

And if you want to be really good at it, it turns out you had better be young. Like brand new to the NBA.

If you just look for the best seasons ever, in terms of rebounding percentage, the players are young. (UPDATE: NOT SO! See note below.) Super young.  In the entire top 20, only one player was older than 23 as of February 1 in the season in question.

Arvydas Sabonis, a real outlier, cracked the list in the season when he was 31.

Besides Sabonis, nowhere in the top 50 is there even anyone as old as 25. There are a few (Dikembe Mutombo, Antonio Davis, Corie Blount) of 25-year-olds in the second 50, but no one in the entire 100 (besides Sabonis) as old as even 26.

Another wrinkle: If you look at players younger than 22 (who have played at least 500 minutes), since 1946, here's the all-time leader list. 10 of the top 15 are active in the NBA right now. Isn't that amazing?

It's not a high-schooler effect, either; All the guys near the top of this list went to college. Young players now are apparently better than young players used to be at getting rebounds, for some reason.

As much as we like to think of rebounding as the sacred art of savvy veterans, it certainly looks like youthful desire and athleticism are the real keys. Those coaches who lock all rookies on the bench could be missing out.

UPDATE: So, well, this is embarrassing. My first point about how how the best rebounders are young is just plain false. Turns out that as I did that search on Basketball-Reference, I had searched only among rookies. Yes, my magical insight was based entirely on a careless error.

Once that error is corrected, the picture changes in a major way, and we learn that if you want to be at the top of this list, instead of being young, you have to be Dennis Rodman.

Worth noting, though, is that of the non-Rodman leaders in this category, almost all are under the age of 30. Youth is still a factor of sorts: Only seven players made the top 100 after the age of 30. Rodman is a total freak here. He did it eight times after 30. Dikembe Mutombo appears four times, Marcus Camby three, Charles Barkley and Swen Nater twice each, Alton Lister and Chris Dudley once each.

From the archives, a nice little tribute to Vlade Divac.

They ask Del Harris if he taught Vlade Divac how to flop. He cracks up. "Did I teach Vlade Divac how to flop? Are you kidding me? He came over here and taught the whole NBA how to flop."

Wayne Winston is a professor at Indiana University and for the last nine years he has been Mark Cuban's stat guru for the Dallas Mavericks. Winston's recently published book "Mathletics," explains much of his work -- complete with formulas and spreadsheets. Earlier in the series (which is being discussed elsewhere, too) we have learned about:

  • Post 1: Statistics, the Maverick's kryptonite and Ben Gordon. (And a follow-up.)
  • Post 2: The player of the decade, Andre Iguodala's curious production and why the Cavs lost.
  • Post 3: The amazing Danilo Gallinari, buzzer-beating 3s, the perils of starting Greg Oden and great Laker lineups.

In the final installment, Winston focuses on coaches and referees:

On Mike D'Antoni and Going Small
Mike D'Antoni, I think, is the guy who changed the game. You spread the floor and go small, and these big guys become dinosaurs. That was a stroke of genius. Didn't win a championship, which is too bad, but that's the biggest change in the game I see.

Who'd have thought that Brandon Bass, Dirk Nowitzki, Josh Howard, Jason Terry and Jason Kidd is the Maverick's best lineup? It hardly makes sense. But for the last two years, that's been by far the best thing they've got.

On Tim Donaghy
They should have spotted him. I really feel there's a big debate. The NBA is more secretive about how they analyze referees than we are in chasing Osama bin Laden.

What I looked at is ... most people think that what he did was determine who won games. He didn't. He was into total points. 

Rick Carlisle
At the time Rick Carlisle was hired, Wayne Winston's stats said Rick Carlisle was the best coach in the NBA "and it wasn't close."
(Photo by Garrett W. Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images)

So I went back to every game where the line moved. If the line moves a lot, people bet money. And in those games, there were way more free throws called than you'd expect. And that's how you'd make scores higher. To make a game go over the over number, you would call free throws. Basically, he did it.

The NBA will never tell you who made which call. But if you make public, in those games, how many of the calls were made by Donaghy ... that's what they should be checking, and maybe they are. 

But they found out about Donaghy from the FBI, right? They should have known. They have the right data. I know they hired Las Vegas people, they hired people to do this stuff. 

On Referee Bias
Are refs biased against teams? Like Joey Crawford, I don't think he was biased against the Spurs [as has been suggested].

Honestly, every team has certain refs that they hate and are convinced are out to get them. The way you should analyze that is: Does your team play worse with those refs?

With Jeff Sagarin, my best friend and my partner in this stuff, we would analyze: When a ref refs your game, across the years, does your team play statistically worse than expected? That could mean either he hates you, or his reffing is so antithetical to the way you play that it affects your style. Either way is bad.

Now, most of the time I think you'll find a ref has no significant impact on a team's performance.

Dan Crawford was a negative effect on the Mavericks, if you analyze it this way, in the playoffs. Given the record, the Mavericks think Dan Crawford doesn't like them. Whether he does or not, I don't know. But I mean, I think the NBA should be doing that, and I don't know that they are.

They need to come clean on what they do. If there's another ref who's found to cheat ... I think the reffing thing is very important. The integrity of the game: Without that we don't have a game. 

For People Who Hate Advanced Basketball Statistics
Every time I write about statistics, a certain portion of TrueHoop readers get upset. Whatever it is that they love about basketball, all these formulas and statistics seem to ruin that.

And I'm not entirely unsympathetic.

For instance, I have written that I'm against the use of performance enhancing drugs because you want to root for players who are doing things that you understand. Running and jumping and dunking the ball. A player does a good job, and we cheer that. But if it's really that the guy at the BALCO lab did a good job ... not as fun. If it becomes about drugs, then what you'd be seeing on the court is really in large part the work of someone in a lab somewhere ... and maybe we don't want to buy a ticket to watch that.

I could see that it would be the same with stats. If this is where the game is being played now, maybe that's not exciting to some people. What do you say to them?
I see what you're saying.

I just think we're trying to give the proper information they need to make good decisions. I don't think that's a bad thing. Wouldn't you want your coaches to have all the data needed to make informed decisions, like you'd want the doctor to order all the tests before deciding what operation to do on you.

I mean, should the doctor not do the tests? I don't know. This is getting to philosophy 101.

I think the skeptics would say: "I don't want the word 'data' in a discussion of coaching."
It's like the Mona Lisa. You can't quantify its appeal. But I think most fans want their team to win legally. And the stats are not the be-all and end-all. They are just one factor. The coach's intuition ... Rick Carlisle last year. Oh god last year was he good. I watch every game on League Pass. There were ten games last year that, going into the last five minutes they should have lost. And they won nine of them. He had all the information, but he just pulled the strings.

On Using Stats in Hiring a Coach
We did a study that showed he was the best coach in the NBA the last ten years. It's part of why Mark hired him.

How would you evaluate a coach? 

We looked at every player that was traded to a coach's team. We looked at their rating the year before in our system and then how they did when that coach got them. And look at the difference. Carlisle crushed everybody. We sent that to Mark [Cuban] and a week later he hired Carlisle. (And I think he said that was part of it -- it wasn't the whole thing.)

But it wasn't close. He was at least two standard deviations better than average. He jumped out and there was nobody else close. He kicked everybody's butt on that.

Phil Jackson ... is he really good or did he just have Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant? That debate will go on forever. It kills me that we don't have the data going back before 2000 to try to answer that.

Monday Bullets

October, 5, 2009
  • Milwaukee coach Scott Skiles has a brilliant way around the NBA's ban on criticizing replacement referees: "A huge percentage of our fouls," he says, "were legitimate."
  • Kevin Arnovitz of ClipperBlog, toying with the notion of The Return of Baron Davis:  "Baron is an unquestionably better conditioned man this October. He seems genuinely mortified by his status as an accessory to last year's debacle. Although he's not surrounded by perfect complements to his game, he knows he can trust Eric Gordon, experiment with Blake Griffin, and have Rasual Butler as a viable option in the corner for a kickout 3. Contrast that to what he was offered at the outset of last season. Davis' ego is bruised -- and that's a good thing. Whatever pleasure he derives from his extracurriculars, he understands that without some corresponding gratification in the league, those accouterments aren't worth much. The documentaries, cross-cultural endeavors and clubs are all nice -- but Baron Davis can't be Baron Davis unless he's part of the league's constellation of stars and playing basketball well into May."
  • John Hollinger's player ratings are posted, and Kevin Durant is the story (Insider). He's poised, says Hollinger, to lead the league in points per minute. There are a ton of reasons to be very excited about what's next from him. But there are still things he's really not good at: "There's no question about Durant's scoring; it's all the other elements of his game that raise eyebrows. He's a very poor passer and makes far too many turnovers for a jump shooter, weaknesses encapsulated by a -3.10 Pure Point Rating that was the fifth-worst among small forwards. Durant also gave a poor accounting at the defensive end, with the Thunder surrendering 8.2 points more per 40 minutes with him on the court than off it. His adjusted plus-minus was a horrid -8.62 points per 100 possessions, a stat that's even more alarming because the Thunder had a bad bench. His rating from his rookie year wasn't much better."
  • Some guy says he got punched in the face. That's the what. The why? Story is it has something to do with NFL player Braylon Edwards having a real dislike for LeBron James.
  • There have been some suggestions lately that Lamar Odom -- impending reality TV presence, celebrity husband -- may be craving the spotlight more than in the past. Exhibit Q, for questionable: About 85:15 into this video, he's wearing a wireless microphone in training camp. He sure appears to be headed to the bathroom. Before going, though, he looks off-camera, presumably at the tech in charge of his mic, taps the mic, and says "I'm good." As in, no need to unclip me for this.
  • Byron Scott in the Shreveport Times, with potentially bad news for Chauncey Billups, who likes to post up small guards, and plays for a Hornets' rival: "A lot of times guys are trying to post [Chris Paul] up, but our guys that are six, seven inches taller than him are having a hard time in the post because he's so strong now. A lot of it comes with maturity and age. You get a little bit stronger and a little bit bigger. But the biggest thing is that he hasn't lost any of his flexibility or quickness." (Via Hornets247)
  • One pre-season game in, Taj Gibson seems comfortable in the NBA.
  • Hey look, it's Jamal Mashburn, Jason Kidd and that other guy who used to be famous.
  • "Mad Men" fans, that's not Don Draper on the Nuggets' preseason roster. That's Donte Draper, and he made a highlight reel.
  • Danny Ainge, Rick Carlisle, Mike Dunleavy, Danny Ferry, Daryl Morey, Sam Presti, Ed Stefanski ... meet your new team in charge of modernizing how the NBA uses instant replay. Change is upon us. 
  • Tim Varner of 48 Minutes of Hell watching DeJuan Blair: "Will any rookie outperform DeJuan Blair on a per minute basis? I doubt it. He looks sensational. He's the exact same rebounder we saw at Pitt, plus he has soft hands, can finish around the basket, is an efficient passer and, surprise, surprise, has a little bit of a spot up game. Clippers fans, don't kill me. DeJuan Blair is Blake Griffin's biggest obstacle on his path toward the ROY. Don't get me wrong. The total minutes thing will remove Blair from the conversation, but per minute ..." Whether it happens like that or not, the fact that  a sober-minded observer like Varner says it could is reason enough to praise the Spurs for making good use of the draft's 37th pick. Also, Varner says Manu Ginobili looks tremendous.
  • Michael Redd is playing like a healthy man.
  • If the Nets had a lot of rubles to spend on players, what would the roster look like?
  • Shaquille O'Neal once saw LeBron James pass the ball, and still thinks it's amazing.
  • Nicolas Batum is called the best player in a Blazer scrimmage. Martell Webster, the guy who had Batum's starting small forward spot before his injury, says he hopes Batum is the starter.
  • The Salt Lake Tribune's Ross Siler in London, where it is said the NBA would one like to have a permanent NBA team: "It should be noted that The O2 [arena], built by the same people as Staples Center, would be the most impressive NBA arena today if it housed a team."
Wayne Winston is a professor at Indiana University and for the last nine years he has been Mark Cuban's stat guru for the Dallas Mavericks. Winston's recently published book "Mathletics," explains much of his work -- complete with formulas and spreadsheets. The first few posts have generated a lot of discussion, and an apology to Troy Murphy, on TrueHoop, Wayne Winston's personal website, and the foremost basketball analytics discussion board. In this installment, Winston begins by discussing Tim Thomas and Danilo Gallinari.

Here's an example of a guy I think is really underrated, and if he's healthy can help the Mavericks immensely: Tim Thomas.

Last year, every good lineup the Knicks had included Tim Thomas. They traded him. I don't know why.
Danilo Gallinari
Winston says Danilo Gallinari was the key to the Knicks' good play for a stretch last season. "The guy just can shoot with his eyes closed. And he's not a bad defender."
(Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE/Getty Images)

The Knicks had a streak last year where they were pretty good, right? The way they were pretty good was they put [Danilo] Gallinari, Thomas and [Al] Harrington on the floor. They spread the floor and they were unguardable.

Gallinari ... his effective field goal percentage was like the best in the league. The guy just can shoot with his eyes closed. And he's not a bad defender. They were really making a playoff run and than he got hurt and that was it.

And they got rid of Thomas and they didn't have that lineup anymore.

Some coach told me that "there's ice cream among the s---." That's what you're looking for with the lineups. If the players are bad, there's probably a couple of combinations that work.

The amazing thing is, teams play lineups that don't work.

Like the Bulls. The five lineups they played the most last year were all bad. I mean, how dumb can you be? has some of this data. How you can not look at how your lineups perform is beyond me. It really is.

But the lineup stuff, I really think we're good at that.

I really think I can look at a playoff series, and look at that data, and I can basically mine that stuff. I think the Mavericks are one of two teams to win 50 games nine straight years and that's how long we've worked for them. I think that's part of it. A very small part obviously. But I think they have better information than most people, with what we do.

What's the process? You're in Indiana ... How do you inform the Mavericks what's going on?
Oh e-mail. There's a website that Mark [Cuban] gets, and it has all the player ratings and the lineup ratings, and a scouting report for each game. I send a lineup calculator that breaks down how each combination of players does in and out of the game.

I haven't talked to Mark on the phone. Ever. I have met him in person a couple of times, but it's all e-mail. That's how Mark is. I don't have his cell phone, I don't know his number. If he decides to call me, that's great.

The only game I went to, it was horrible, I went to that Game 6 double overtime when they got eliminated by Phoenix. They had a 13-point lead in the third quarter, and as soon as they put Alan Henderson in I knew it was over because he was terrible that year.

Then it came down to this big debate. Do you foul when you're up three? They let Steve Nash hit a 3 to tie that game. Almost no coach will foul until there's five seconds left in the game. I think that's something we don't know the answer to. But that's something we could study.

You should definitely go for 3 at the end of the game if you're down two. I think there's no question of that. Most coaches don't. The only team that did that, that I know, was Reggie Miller and the Pacers. They always did that. They always let Reggie take that shot. They would want the buzzer to go off with the ball in the air and it worked a lot of times.

I feel like I've seen Kobe do that.
Yeah, I mean Kobe's probably done it too. But the math is solid there. If I've got the ball and I can take the shot with the horn going off, you should go for 3. You only win the overtime half the time. Suppose you have a 50% chance of hitting the two. So you make a shot half the time, and then you win in overtime half the time, you win the game just 25% of the time.

But if you shoot the 3, you've got at least a 30% chance. That's all you need to know.

[Houston GM] Daryl Morey, I guess, never talks about what he does. That article about Shane Battier, though, you know the one I'm talking about? A lot of that was adjusted +/-. They have their own adjusted +/-, I guess.

The dataset we use is every minute of every game -- who's on the court? That's really, to my mind, where the game should be.
Greg Oden
When Greg Oden played in Joel Przybilla's place with Portland's starting lineup, Winston says the team was far less effective.
Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE/Getty Images)

I hate fantasy football, for instance, because it totally wrecks the whole point of the game, which is to win. When the quarterback throws the pass, and you have the running back, you get mad. Well if it's your team, you shouldn't get mad. Oh it's horrible. It's not why you like basketball or football. I mean, Adrian Peterson is the best player in fantasy football and he didn't even help the team, hardly, last year.

If you had unlimited minutes, adjusted plus/minus would be a perfect metric. We don't, so sometimes it'll mess up. When it does, there are little adjustments that we make, that I don't want to talk about, but I think that's why we do a better job than some of the other people.

There are some problems with the data analysis that can make it difficult to analyze a player. Most people who are running plus/minus are using canned stats packages like SPSS or SAS. And I think if you do that you can't make the adjustments very easily for the players whose numbers will be screwed up by the normal process.

But that's like our secret so we don't talk about that much. The lineup stuff ... after a bunch of games you can really see the three-man combinations that work. You can see that others don't work. Things pop out.

Are there teams that have great lineups that they just don't know about?
Oh yes. You see all kinds of things. For instance, in the Bulls/Celtics playoff series last year, everyone talks about Kevin Garnett being out. But if Luol Deng had been healthy, the Bulls would have won. I'm pretty sure.

The average team plays something like 4-500 lineups a year. Amazing.

In Portland, the lineup they played the most was pretty good. LaMarcus Aldridge, Nicolas Batum, Steve Blake, Joel Przybilla and Brandon Roy was 14 points better than average. Put in Greg Oden for Przybilla ... it's one point worse than average.

For the Blazers, there are some great lineups I see to close games. Brandon Roy, LaMarcus Aldridge, Rudy Fernandez, Joel Przybilla and Steve Blake. They played 167 minutes and were 32 points better than average.

That's the starting lineup with Rudy in place of Batum.
Right, so it's 17 points better with that one substitution.

There are a lot of minutes here, so that's a lot of data.

The key to the Lakers -- it doesn't take a genius to figure it out, is you close with Lamar Odom, Pau Gasol, and Kobe Bryant. If you do that, you can't really go wrong.

You take out Bryant and leave Odom in, they were good. You take out Odom and leave Bryant in they weren't good. That's why I say Odom was better than Bryant.

OK, this is what they closed with: Trevor Ariza, Kobe Bryant, Derek Fisher, Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom. That's 18 points better than average. And isn't that the one that closed every game? That's a good lineup, and they played that one the most.

Artest will be interesting.

Another good lineup is if you take that same thing, but put in Luke Walton for Fisher. Or Walton for Ariza. That's just as good. Doesn't make any difference.

This lineup is off the charts, and didn't play much: Bryant, Gasol, Odom, Luke Walton and Shannon Brown.

That lineup won by 55 points a game. They played 50 minutes together.

There's things like this on every team. Let's look at Houston. They should know everything. I had dinner with Daryl Morey once when he still worked for Boston and I showed him what we do. So he knows what we do. I don't know what he does, but I know he does a lot more.

I'm happy for him. He's a really nice guy, he's been very supportive of my book and he's good for the math people. He's the "Moneyball" of the NBA.

The Rockets six lineups that played the most, five of them are ten points or more better than average.

The only bad one was Rafer Alston, Shane Battier, Tracy McGrady, Luis Scola and Yao Ming, and they won't be playing that one this season.

More to come from Wayne Winston on Monday.

On Yelling at Referees

October, 1, 2009

With the referees locked out, and nasty things being said about them generally, especially in the wake of the Tim Donaghy scandal, I have been thinking a little about how so many people have come to have such strong feelings about the people in the striped shirts.

About the time I was wondering about that, I opened Bill Russell's book Red and Me, about Russell's relationship with the legendary coach and executive Red Auerbach.

Russell talks at some length about the amazing things Auerbach would do to disturb referees. Most of them were surely inspiring to anyone looking for an excuse to let let the officials have it. For instance:

For years, Red had a running problem with a ref named Sid Borgia, who made a lot of terrible calls against us. When Sid had our game, it was almost as much fun watching the fireworks between him and Red as it was winning the game. Red always smoked those foul-smelling cigars -- in those days, people still smoked indoors. So, one time when Sid made a lousy call on us, Red formed a mouthful of chewed-up cigar and got right in Sid's face and started arguing, "You son of a bitch!" and "Jesus Christ!" and Sid ended up with a face-full of chewed tobacco bits. I don't know if this was deliberate. But, after that, the moment Sid saw Red heading his way to argue a call, he retreated farther onto the court, out of Red's range.

An interesting side note: Sid Borgia's son, Joe, is a former referee and current league executive overseeing officials.

Late Friday Mini-Bullets

September, 25, 2009

Monday Bullets

September, 21, 2009
  • The Plain Dealer's Brian Windhorst on Delonte West (who was arrested last week with three guns on him, his dad says it was about personal protection): "West opened himself up to the fans by talking about his struggle with bipolar disorder. It not only endeared him even more to the fan base that was attracted to his style of play and personality, but also to people who have battled mood disorders and depression. Mail poured into the Cavs from people who West had inspired. West then went out and had the best season of his career, his first as a full-time starter. He was a significant factor in the Cavs winning 66 games. But behind the scenes there was never a doubt that he was often battling with his emotional problems."
  • Bethlehem Shoals of FreeDarko: "West is bipolar; so am I. That doesn't make me unsympathetic to his situation -- on the contrary, to me it's almost mundane, the kind of thing you wake up from and shake your head at. Not that I've ever ended up strapped to the teeth on a mini-bike, re-enacting a scene from a s----- movie. But since no one got hurt, and the explanation is obvious, the specifics are neither here nor there. This is what happens when you go off your meds. The legal system knows this, and presumably, Delonte is a little closer to figuring it out."
  • A letter from the wife of a referee to David Stern. Julie Davis, wife of Marc Davis, writes (in a letter obtained by Fanhouse's Tim Povtak): "I would guess that most of the NBA office employees do not miss their kid's school plays, parent-teacher conferences, sports practices and games, graduations, Christmas mornings, and other holidays. Their husbands and wives do not have to explain to their children each morning and night for 10 months of the year that daddy or mommy will not be coming home again today and won't be home again for the next ten days either. I can tell you from first-hand experience that three, four and five year olds do not get that concept very well."
  • Jeremy from Roundball Mining Company: "I refereed a few intramural games in college. There were three leagues, A, B and C. I refereed C league games. As you probably figured out A was the top competitive league and C was the recreational league full of people who may or may not have played before. You would think that the C league would be pretty laid back and easy to ref. Some of the guys on my floor played on a team called "Wish There Was a D League.” I am pretty sure they never got on the refs. On some nights you had teams like my floor mates who just wanted to run around and were happy to make fools of themselves, but on other nights the participants seemed to think they were battling it out for the Larry O'Brien trophy and as a result I took quite a bit of abuse. I remember being glared at days after a game when a guy from one of the games I worked passed me on the sidewalk. The whole point of this is I do not know who on earth would want to be a referee."
  • Former NBA center Leroy Ellis has managed life's disasters -- a murdered son, a terminal cancer diagnosis -- with an exceptionally strong spirit and an even-keeled attitude.
  • Spencer Hawes, spontaneous cheerleader.
  • Rod Benson is as funny as people get, and has turned himself into a big name in the basketball blogging community. So ... has that made him more valuable as a box-office draw? The Utah Flash owner Brandt Andersen is asked that question by SaltCityHoops: "So you don't think there is any value added to a player by becoming kind of an online celebrity? Not at all. Like I said, the only thing that really matters is if you can play, and you win on the court. So it doesn't matter when a guy like Rod Benson comes to town? Rod doesn't draw at all. I love reading his stuff, he's a great writer and a funny guy, but he doesn't affect our gate at all."
  • Andre Iguodala had his cable cut off.
  • TrueHoop reader Steve writes: "Allen Iverson was present at the first Eurobasket semifinal, Spain vs Greece, sitting in the front row behind the basket that Spain played on offensively during the second quarter. TV cameras showed him twice towards the end of the second quarter (at around four minutes to play, I guess)." Iverson has been in Europe on a tour for Reebok.
  • The Onion: "Athletes Can Play Through Those Injuries, Says Man Who Gets Sore From Sitting Too Long"
  • Video of people dunking on Shaquille O'Neal.
  • Markus Carr, professional basketball player in Europe, and serial entrepreneur with a series of fascinating tales.
  • If Trevor Ariza had taken the Cavaliers' free agent money instead of the Rockets' he reportedly would have been $2 million poorer because of Ohio state tax.
  • Kenyon Martin talks about his spat with Mark Cuban on Denver's 104.3 The Fan: "He apologized to my mom and that's all he had to do. Just move on from it. He has a team to run down there and I have a job to kick their butt every time we play them." (Via Sports Radio Interviews)

Thursday Bullets

September, 17, 2009
  • A suggestion, via Twitter, that a Bryon Russell vs. Michael Jordan match may be in the works.
  • LeBron James is coming to New York ... to promote the movie "More Than a Game." A Nike press release about the visit (taking place this Sunday), makes clear it will be another opportunity for James to demonstrate his lack of steadfast commitment to Ohio. One line that caught my eye: "As part of the celebration, James will be presented with an exclusive pair of Nike Air Max LeBron VII's featuring a New York City-inspired design created by local artist Tomokazu Matsuyama."
  • Imagining replacement refs.
  • I once read an interview with some celebrity, can't remember which one. She explained why she only did big budget movies: Studios will market the hell out of them, for fear of having a colossal failure. So they usually succeed, and make her look like a good investment! In those cases, the executives are emotionally invested, too. Their reputations are on the line. Cheap movies, though, can be dropped, without any reflection on the executives. So in some weird way, wasting money is the surest way to making money, if you see what I mean. Anyway, Rob Mahoney detects a bit of the same dynamic at the end of the Mavericks' roster. There are three candidates to cut, and one of them has a fat salary, which may help him stick around. The team has to pay either way, but cutting a guy like that, having once invested so much, could be an embarrassing admission of defeat.
  • The Suns get a sponsor on their practice jerseys.
  • An inspiring tale of overcoming cancer, starring three miniature NBA basketballs.
  • Jared Wade of Eight Points Nine Seconds: "Not only is he an All-American basketball player, but Tyler Hansbrough is, to my knowledge, the first NBA star to also crossover into the social networking-based dog-catching profession."
  • Morris Almond, a former Jazz pick and a fine young man (who once wrote for TrueHoop) will be in camp with the Magic. Ross Siler of the Salt Lake Tribune: "Almond was widely expected to go to camp with New York after playing in summer league with the Knicks. Instead, he'll get the chance to prove to the Magic that they never can have enough three-point shooters. I've said it here before not to count out Almond. He's been a slow starter his entire basketball life, whether it was being stuck in Josh Smith's shadow in high school or his first two college seasons at Rice. We'll see ifthe pattern repeats itself in the NBA."
  • David Stern talked NBA basketball in a barbershop in Harlem. TrueHoop reader Armando Lara-Millán (Fellow of the American Sociological Association, MFP, Department of Sociology at Northwestern University) writes: "What is interesting to me is that the issues that come up are the issues that continue to strike NBA fans of color as policy inspired by racism -- The NBA age limit rule, the dress code, and the fallout from the melee. I was reminded at why these these issues continue to drum up discussions about racism amongst any group of NBA fans of color: a big organization is attempting to regulate a group of people of color so that they behave morally and ethically in ways that are comfortable for white fans. You will notice, actual talk about the content of NBA playing is very limited."
  • "Black Rushmore," a new Gilbert Arenas tattoo.

Wednesday Bullets

September, 16, 2009
  • Steve Nash, Hall of Famer?
  • Hard to argue he isn't grown up yet: Kevin Durant reportedly organized 6:30 am pickup games, which he'd play in before his summer University of Texas class on ... adolescence.
  • Ryan at the Basketball Geek goes in-depth discussing a new book by Wayne Winston. Winston is one of the big names in basketball statistics, who is under contract with prominent referee-basher Mark Cuban's Dallas Mavericks. So, when Ryan writes about one particular part of the book, I'm dying to know more: "In the next chapters, Are NBA Officials Prejudiced? and Did Tim Donaghy Fix NBA Games?, Wayne shows how we might try to analyze these topics, and what conclusions we'd want to arrive at based on the analysis." Good tease! (Also, Winston explains why Sebastian Telfair is an underrated gem.) 
  • There have been so many stories of professional athletes being misled or ripped off in various financial schemes. This is a refreshing and new angle. Horace Grant is reportedly due a payment of nearly $1.5 million. He made a mutual fund investment on the basis of representations it was extremely safe. Turned out, it wasn't, and now he's getting his money back.
  • A suggestion that the NBA might have better referees if they busted the union and started from scratch. I have my doubts. Before declaring any such thing, I'd want to see evidence that the recent hires from the D-League -- the referees who presumably most approximate what we'd have as replacements -- were in some way more accurate than the old ones.
  • This is a teaser, and the payoff is, if you sign up ... getting to watch video of two people you don't know playing a video game. That counts? That's enough? That's teasable?
  • The Blazers hired Hersey Hawkins as player development director. Attention lucrative market to the north in search of an NBA team to love: In case Brandon Roy, Martell Webster, Nate McMillan and Paul Allen didn't have enough Seattle ties for you ... Chris Bowles, who had that title previously, and got the Blazers doing some interesting stuff, has a new job with the team.
  • Have you seen the hot new rumors about the European big man the Spurs are in love with? Those rumors are three months old!
  • Marvin Williams just signed a contract worth around $40 million. I'm thinking it might be time to buy his family Leage Pass. Here he is in an interview with HoopsTV: "The Hawks have seven nationally televised games on their regular-season schedule this year, equal to the total amount the franchise has had over the past 11 seasons combined. Have any thoughts on the Hawks moving into the NBA spotlight? That's huge. Huge. I think every player loves top be on national television, but especially me being from the Seattle area, my family doesn't get a chance to see me play very often, so having all those games on national television is big. It's big for the Atlanta Hawks organization. It just shows people around the League and the world that we are getting better."